tv Oral Histories CSPAN September 11, 2016 4:58am-5:48am EDT
for some weeks to sort of catch up on all the rest of the pieces of this. i think many people that i worked with were very intent on doing what we needed to do to be , first of all, completing our project, but part of the bigger national military response to what had occurred. it was clear from that first meeting that was adjourned when that second plane flew into that building that i described earlier, it was clear that there would need to be some military response or some response that would involve the military in a big way. so ensuring that i did my best and did everything i could to make that happen correctly was the absolute focus of my attention and efforts. earlier that everything changed that day.
i've always loved the military. i love what i do in the navy. but i never felt that it was more important to stay focused and give it my all than i did after 9/11. steve: do you remember that day as if it were yesterday? admiral thomas: absolutely. i think about it. i dream about it. it.y to draw lessons from and in some ways, draw strength from some of the things i soccer that day. so yes, i remember every moment of that day as if it had just occurred. steve: what do you think your friend bob dylan would think if he were here today? admiral thomas: he was a great guy. he was a deep thinker. he was a strategic thinker. he would be, as i am, but in a more -- probably a more eloquent way, very proud of what our nation has been able to do.
like, it's it is such a tragedy at such a aung age to have lost such visionary. i know he would be happy by the reconstituted. the folks that he led told -- pull themselves together in his memory and got right back in the fight. it was a real tribute to bob's a rolehip and him as model. i can see them all rallying and get that to it despite the pain and loss. so, i think he would be proud of know hehave done and i would not only be proud of what we've done but he would still be all in to continue to fight and
on any front. he was that kind of guy. >> as the 10th anniversary approaches, where will you be and how will you commemorate your role in 9/11. captain thomas: i will be at work, that is how i will commemorate my role on 9/11, making things happen the way i have an trained. the way it our navy and my nation expects me to do. >> are there any lessons for america and americans 10 years later? captain thomas: great question. i think just about everything i know about lessons i learned as a boy scout. be prepared. do your best. to help other
people at all times. navy core values of -- so,ent and our ideals i guess those were my lessons from all of this. having ideals and values and having some actionable guideposts like do your best and do your duty and help other people. those are my lessons. translate to an event like 9/11 and they apply to everyone so i think being kind to people and doing your best and making good things happen. >> final question. did you go back to the area that was hit by the plane afterwards? if so, what did you think?
rear adm. thomas: it was finished during my subsequent tour so i had the great honor to watch when secretary rumsfeld and mrs. bush and others rededicated that on the first anniversary ceremony. it was just wonderful. very to the many of us who were still there. i did not go back the -- to the part of the pentagon that'twas destroyed and subsequently rebuilt for years. -- there is a chapel there now. i visited it a couple times when i was still stationed. but i would like to think that to move forward. that we remember him to cherish and commemorate into honor those who died, who were killed that day. and we honor them by our
continued movement forward to continue to grow as a country and continue to strengthen ourselves as a country. as a leader of the world. as a model for the world. it and visiting to honor my friends, to honor my fallen comrades, i do that now. i can do that and i have recently once or twice. it is hard though, i tell you. it is really hard because it is like -- it brings it all right back like it just happened. a magnificent job with the visitors center. it is very peaceful. if you have. visited, it is worth the trip. a very poignant reminder of life and how fragile life can be but how enduring the world is in how enduring our core values, our
nation's values are. so, it is worth a visit. i do visit occasionally. it is not as painful as it used to be and i do it to honor my friends and fallen comrades and those things that we value. >> thank you for sharing your story on 9/11. i appreciated. appreciate it. where admiral thomas: you're welcome. -- enter of >> senator tom daschle talked about being re--- if i committed to a secure, undisclosed location. this is about 35 minutes. >> take us back to the morning of september 11th, 2001. how did your day begin? >> steve, my day began by my normal preparation for what we were going to hold a routine
leadership meeting, every tuesday we would do that. i came in early and john glenn, a dear friend, came by. he was going to get, he was actually going to do an intervu and had a little time, so he came by for a cup of coffee. we were sitting in my office that morning when we had the television on and watched a plane fly into the first tower of the trade center and i remember very clearly, john's reaction. i said, did you see that? a pilot just flew into the world trade center. >> he said, pilots don't fly into buildings. that wasn't a pilot. >> that's how it started. we went then to a leadership meeting. shortly after that, thinking that it had to have been an accident, we turned on the monitors. we were going to begin our preparation for the day's activities, work, and then began to watch the scene unfold and i
remember at one point, senator patty murray, who was sitting at the table, looked out and saw smoke billowing and she ran over to the window and she said, my god, there's smoke comeing from the pentagon, so we all jumped to our feet and went over to the window to watch what little we could see from the window. and there began the chaos. >> back to the moment where the second plane hit the second tower. you're in a conference room meeting with your colleagues at this senate leadership meeting. you remember the faces of your colleagues? do you remember what you thought? >> well, it was interesting. usually, when we had our meeting, there was a good deal of casual conversation. but what struck me was that i wasn't getting the attention of any anybody in the room. they were all watching the monitor, glued to the monitor and i was virtually talking to an empty chamber in terms of my capacity to get their attention. everybody was completely consumed already by what was going on.
>> and looking back, can you imagine having that meeting in light of everything that happened that morning? >> no. obviously, the meeting didn't last but a few minutes because right at the time all this was happening, a capitol policeman broke in. he said, we're getting out of here. i need everybody to come right now and there was a mad scramble literally running out of the capitol building. i saw young staff, i even saw senator byrd carrying a couple of books and having some difficulty walking quickly, but none the less, evacuating as we were all attempting to leave the building. not really sure where all this was going to lead. >> back to the moment where you saw the smoke coming from the pentagon across the mall. you're in this meeting room. you remember what your fellow senators said?
fmr. sen. daschle: well, it was a sense of disbelief and a sense of real concern that there had to have been a connection between what we were seeing there and what we had just seen on tv, but what was the connection and how was this all all understood. i think there was tremendous confusion. a high, high degree of anxiety. a very palpable fear that something unusual in the extreme was going on.
host: and when you heard that a plane was heading for the capitol, what did you think? fmr. sen. daschle: well, at that point, we all -- i think the first thing most of us felt the need to do is to think of our own personal safety and that was in part what led for the mad scramble out of the building. the odd thing was that we had no clue as to where we ought to go and i remember the just like you'd see in the movies, with the suv i was in, spinning its wheels and screeching out of the capitol, tearing out of the capitol grounds. and hearing my detail, i had a security detail at the time, instructing us to drive around until further orders could be established. it wasn't long after we literally drove with no appreciation of where we were going to the capitol police building.
we were taken to the top floor of the capitol police building, which is very near the capitol campus. and taken to the fourth floor and they pulled the shades down, which i always thought was an odd thing to do. and then of course, our first, most immediate concern was to try to connect with our family. the cell phones weren't working, so we all stood in this rather lengthy line, all the leaders were taken there. house and senate, republican and democratic. and we were, i can recall feeling almost like a refugee, standing in line waiting to get my turn to use the land line to call my wife. host: when you're in that room, who else was with you?
tom daschle: well, it was just leadership, so i -- i know that senator lott was there. senator nicholls, senator reid on the senate side. and then i -- i don't recall specifically each of the house meps. speaker hastert was there and some of the other house leaders as well. host: do you remember at that point what you were thinking? tom daschle: again, there was a tremendous amount of confusion. we didn't know what to think. we didn't know who was behind this. how orchestrated. what came next.
how much more damage was done. we were all trying to get as much information from limited media sources as we could. i got -- i was notified and i can't recall how i was told this, but i was notified that the local police department in my hometown of aberdeen, south dakota, picked up my mother and took her to the police station. of course, my mother at that time was in her late 70s and was completely confused, i'm told, by the circumstances, but was taken as a precautionary measure. so, all of these inexplicable matters, i couldn't get through to my wife. my wife was actually at the american airlines building at the time because she works with american and i had trouble connecting with her for some time. host: from the moment that you left the capitol, you made this route around washington, d.c., ended up at the police office, police headquarters. do you remember what you saw, what the city looked like what the streets of washington, d.c. looked like? tom daschle: well, at that time, it was, it was quite an amazing -- sight. because there was, people were coming out of their buildings. i recall, of course, there was this mass exodus from the capitol building. a huge crowd that had gathered pretty much on the south lawn, but i remember people seeing
people come out of the other buildings in the capitol complex as well. i think the conventional wisdom was that one was safer outside than inside, so that's what you saw. a lot of people mulling around outside their buildings, looking up, obviously very confused. but it was total chaos. steve: did you ever see the capitol evacuated like that before? tom daschle: never before. we had a couple of occasions after that that were similar in moments of anxiety and extraordinary concern about safety, but that was the first time i think it's ever happened. steve: you're also the leader of
the senate, so what role and responsibility did you have to make sure your staff, the senate staff, left the capitol grounds and how were you involved in all of that? tom daschle: well, all i could do was to tell my chief of staff and those at the senior staff level who were in the capitol at the time with me, that we needed to evacuate as quickly as possible. that they should insist that everybody leave as quickly as they could. i had no other information upon which to base my, my -- my -- strong encouragement to my staff other than this is the time to follow orders. we are all following what minimally provided guidance there was. nobody knew what was happening or how to react. steve: as a leader in the senate, were you prepared for this?
tom daschle: no. >> was there any preparation before 9/11? >> none whatsoever. i don't recall ever even having a fire drill in the capitol building. my memory certainly has faded, so it could have happened, but i don't recall that it ever did. steve: so, you're at the capitol police headquarters. it's now late morning? >> late morning. >> do you remember where you were when you saw the towers fall? tom daschle: we were in the -- i think in the late morning, the towers still hadn't fallen. we were in the capitol building and there was a good deal of discussion about three things. one, our current circumstances, what this may involve and what to do. secondly, was there a need for us to make some sort of a reactive statement so that we could at least give the impression that we were providing some leadership here. and then the third was where do we go from here? what do we do? what should we doecide with regard to location?
there was discussion of going to the secret location, some suggested going to andrews. some suggested, maybe we should not concentrate all leadership in one location regardless. so there was a great difference of opinion. it wasn't an argument necessarily, but these were all suggestions that had merit. and ultimately, we decided to disperse. that that would be probably the safest thing to do. so from there, i went to an off - campus sight of a consultant of ours and stays there for a little while. watching developments, again on the screen, but i was with a few staff, and in terms of overall leadership, by myself. steve: i know you cannot say where these undisclosed facilities are, but they do have facilities for the leadership.
i wonder what they look like and what sense you had. daschle: well, the government does have facilities -- it's interesting. first, to note how you get there. i was called probably an hour after i iarrived at the consultant's office and was told that the decision had been made to evacuate to this undisclosed location and that i was to report to the west lawn of the capitol as quickly as i could and that i could bring one staff person, so i did that. and laura petrue, one of my senior staff, came with me. we got to the west lawn and there was a circle of s.w.a.t. team members surrounding a helicopter and of course, the helicopter's blades were whirring and we ran to the helicopter, got inside. the headphones were put on and as we were lifting off, we could hear that the pilot was getting a communication, asking how many were on board and whether we could swing by andrews air force
look? >> the city looked somewhat normal from the air. with one major exception and that is of course, the pentagon. there you saw a plane. we saw half of an airplane. with countless firetrucks and thousands of people standing around on the outside with all kinds of smoke billowing out. steve: when did you first speak to president bush or vice president cheney? >> well, we got to be undisclosed location and it is a very start lace with rooms that are very nondescript. white walls, basic chairs and tables. we were then taken to the communication center where there were a number of television monitors and other
communications equipment. it was shortly after that that we were put on a speakerphone with the president. i think it was the president president vice second. to talk about circumstances. recounted their own experiences, where they were, what they knew from intelligence briefings they had been given. what their intentions were as they were continuing their analysis and evaluation of what had happened. what we told them is that we stood ready to work closely with them to develop a reaction plan. that we were planning to consult more closely with more of our colleagues. who somewhat ironically had gathered at the capitol police building after we evacuate in and chose that is the meeting place to the extent that it had the capacity to hold larger numbers of people. we began speaking to them in the afternoon. if i recall, they were altogether.
house, senate, democratic, republican members all gathered somewhat together talking about circumstances of what we might do. realize i keep going back to this point, but you are on the cap helicopter, flying to andrews air force eight. at that point, what were you thinking? daschle: well, i was -- at that point, we became a little more confident that the circumstances were becoming clearer. we up until then, because of the chaos, because of the extraordinary degree of uncertainty about just about every aspect of what we were experiencing, there was so little opportunity to appraise our circumstances with any confidence that we knew what was going on, but the pieces were starting to come together by then and we all gained a greater appreciation i think of the challenges that we were faced with.
the best analysis we could find coming up with a plan to deal with those circumstances as we had analyzed them and then probably more profoundly, what to do with the amazing loss of life that was already being reported. when you were in the sky, you were one of the few aircrafts in the sky over washington, d.c. in this helicopter. did you see any fighter jets? did you see any other activity? >> we heard a lot of fighter jets. actually know when i
saw them or whether, but they were deployed quickly and i don't recall whether i physically saw them, but you could certainly care them. steve how often were you during : the course of the afternoon, in touch with the white house? daschle: frequently. i want to say, when you say the white house, either the president, the vice president or white house officials. i would say at least every hour. steve: and what were they telling you? tom daschle: well, they were telling us what they knew. one of the first things they had decided and i think appropriately so, was to ground all aircraft. unfortunately, a lot of aircraft had no place to go, so even though they intentionally grounded every aircraft in the sky, they couldn't get that result for several hours. but that was one of the first things. we heard of course also about the terrible tragedy in
pennsylvania. and the circumstances there. we were getting more of the details with regard to each one of these specific incidents, but they were all forming a picture that was horrific and very anxious ridden. steve: when did you finally reach your wife linda? >> i finally was able to get through to her mid-morning. i think i finally reached her or prep she reached me late morning. she shared with me what had happened from the american perspective, what they were doing. we were, weas -- compared notes and then made the decision to call the rest of our family immediately. steve: what was your sense from that phone conversation? did she give you a sense of nervousness? what was your state of mind at
that point? tom daschle: well, you don't -- i think many people have the same reaction. when you go through this. you don't have time to be too consumed about your own personal circumstances as much you want to be concerned about the safety of others. your family initially. my children, my mother. my staff. and so, it was really an effort to first to attain some better understanding of what they had experienced and then secondly, to reassure them to the extent you can that we're going to get on top of this. that is just -- maybe it is genetic, but there's something intuitive about wanting to be more concerned about family than yourself. steve: were senators calling you? were they asking questions? were you a point person to try to feed information to your colleagues? tom daschle: i think each leader was. there was almost a recognition that we had a responsibility in that regard to share what we knew, but the problem was that
everybody was so dispersed. there really wasn't much of an opportunity, at least initially, to share much at all. when they began gathering finally at the capitol police building, we were able at least to get the word out to some and then of course, communications were in some cases, nonexistent. you couldn't connect. you couldn't use a cell phone for a while. it had to have been such an overload that it was very, very difficult to find ways to be able to communicate. steve: what was happening with your own security detail? do you remember what they were carrying? what they were telling you? what their state of mind was as somebody who's job was to protect the leerder of the senate? tom daschle: well, they were obviously in a very intense circumstance. they weren't in the room with us. they were waiting outside. they knew nothing more than -- in fact, we probably knew more than they did at that point.
only because we were talking directly to the president who was getting briefed from people who could provide him with their best analysis. but there was constant information sharing and an effort to try to offer whatever insights we could about what was going on regardless of what role they might have had. whether it was the security detail of the capitol police or staff or family or white house, we were all in information sharing mode. times ten. steve: were you still moving around? were you at your consultant's office? where did you spend most of the afternoon? tom daschle: we spent most of the afternoon in a secret, disclosed location. the two towers go down, the plane in shanksville, --
steve: the two towers go down, the plane in shanksville, pennsylvania, killing everyone on board, the pentagon was hit. at that point, planes were grounded. was there a point in the afternoon where you had a sense that at least things were under control under the circumstances? tom daschle: well, we felt increasingly confident that they were, if not under control, at least that we had reached a pause in terms of further violence and further damage for the chaos. i think there was a lot of concern about whether there was going to be a second wave. we didn't know. no one could tell us anything. even though it may not have come from an airplane, could it come from something else. a missile. whatever. and so, there was a lot of concern. about how quickly we could be assured that whatever happened had exhausted its initial phase. lead, of course, almost
immediately to discussions later in the afternoon about how quickly we could go back, and whether it was -- whether it was safe and whether it was in the interest for us to speak to the country. to defiantly open up the capital the next day. symbolic not only as but as critical in terms of the psyche and statement we wanted to make about not allowing these forces to shut the government down. so, we consulted with all of our colleagues in the capitol building who had assembled about the propriety of coming back and perhaps speaking from the capitol steps and that's ultimately what we decided to do. the security advice we got was
that that would not with a -- that would not be a good idea. we decided to take the risk to the extent that we knew there was one -- if there was one. we gathered on the capitol steps to say to the country and the world that we're going to be back in business the next day. steve: what was your conversation like with the speaker? both you and the speaker issued those statements in front of the cameras. how did that all come about? tom daschle: well, it was decided early on that the fewer the speeches, the better. that the leader of the senate and house probably be the only two people to speak with as many members as could be assembled. we didn't know if that was going
to be half a dozen, a handful, or more. it turned out there was a pretty good number of people. we got word out that we were doing this on the center stats of the capital, facing in east front, and we had a speaker, defined to be as we could, and so we found ourselves with a much larger group than we had anticipated and gave our speeches. steve: so, you left the capitol late morning. you came back early evening. can you contrast the two what you saw in washington and what sense you had from morning and afternoon? tom daschle: it was such a striking day of contrast. it was one of the most beautiful days of the year. the sun was shining. the early morning as well as the
latter part of the afternoon. yet, with that soft september light was chaos all around. smoke still billowing from the pentagon. fire trucks, jets above. chaos with tanks and all kinds of military equipment in the street i the time we got back. it was just an amazing transformation of what started as one of the most tranquil and beautiful days of the year that morning. it was also abundantly clear that in spite of the partisanship we had experienced -- at that point, it seemed unprecedented level, given the very, very controversial supreme court decision about the
presidential election and the divide that occurred in the senate, 50 democrats and 50 republicans. in spite of all the devisiveness, this was probably as united as the country had ever been. democrats and republicans "godng hands and singing, bless america." everyone embracing, crying, expressing emotions in the most personal and profound way. a real sense that we were all in this together. a spiritual, emotional, political way that had never experienced before. , the study in contrast, calm, beautiful day to violence,
partisanship to unity. that to me was what was really striking. steve: you're back at the capitol early evening with the speaker of the house. do you remember what you were thinking as you walked to that microphone? and what did you say? tom daschle: i think we both had the same desire, which was to reflect three things. first of all, that our country was united. that truly, we were one. two, that defiantly, we were not going to allow any force to shut the government down. that we were going to demonstrate that democracy had survived even though some of our buildings had not. and three, that we were going to put a plan together to respond in a more concrete and comprehensive way, and that we would have more to say about the specific plans as the day unfolded. steve: at this point, the
president is back in washington. he's about ready to deliver a speech to the nation. did you watch it? tom daschle: we did. i thought it was a very appropriate speech. he was confident. i think he articulated the right message. he shared what he knew, and that, like us, wanted to reflect a sense of leadership and of unity. obviously, a profound level of sympathy as well for all of the victims. we didn't know yet just how pervasive and how problematic the loss of life would be and our calculation, but we knew enough to know that thousands of people had died. i think that expression,
-- that expression of sympathy to those who had been so debtry -- that had been so tragically affected by this had our sympathy. steve: did you know anyone on board any of those planes? tom daschle: i did not. steve: when you remember that moment and some of the senate called the outburst of "god bless america," how did that come about? tom daschle: i don't think anyone really knows where it started, but as we to do there, -- but as we were finishing up, after the two speeches, there was a moment of silence that wasn't scheduled. nobody really wanted to leave. people started holding hands. somebody started to sing the song. and as they did, it didn't take long before everybody began
singing along, and it was probably the most beautiful part of the entire experience, totally unplanned, totally spontaneous. probably more powerful than whatever the speaker and i said. steve: do you remember what you saw on the faces of these members of the house and senate, many of whom were your friends? tom daschle: well, i think it was very profound concern and anxiety. i don't recall seeing a smile the entire evening. it was really facial expressions that were somber, very, very grave, extremely anxious. shared storied about how each of us spent our day. what we knew. horrific reports often repeated about the loss of life in new
york, in particular, and at the pentagon. recounts of other aspects of the tragedy that piece by piece were coming together. everybody had a little detail that, in some way, collectively gave us a far better picture of the circumstances once we had collected. steve: where did you go next? were you back in your office? tom daschle: i went to the office a while. i spoke with a few of my senior staff that had also collected, congregated, and then i remember going home. my wife had indicated that it had taken hours to get home because the streets were so congested.
i found, again the striking contrast, by that time the streets were totally deserted. there was nobody. so, it was a much easier experience for me getting back, but it was lined with tanks and trucks and armed vehicles of various kinds. steve: and where was your home at the time in relation to the capitol? tom daschle: my home was in northwest washington, up by american university. steve: so, as you walked in the door, you saw your wife. what did you think? what did you say? tom daschle: well, we embraced for a long time. i don't think any words had to be exchanged. we then collected our thoughts, we talked about our of, our family, what we knew
the circumstances, and what i had just experienced on the steps of the capitol. steve: did you watch the news that evening? did you talk to fellow leaders? tom daschle: i did. steve: walk us through that night. tom daschle: well, we spent a good deal of time on the telephone talking as we had most most of the day with members who were very curious about what was going to happen. what we were going to convene the next day and what the circumstances were. i talked to my family. we had all the television sets on in the house i think and as we moved around the house, stopped to watch further news of the day and recaps of what happened. i don't think i talked to the president that night again, but i know i talked to somebody in the white house. i don't think it was the president. it was somebody there as well. steve: you talked about the day of contrast when it began with
john glenn and as the events unfolded, but is there something in particular about that day that you will always remember? tom daschle: oh, goodness. when you're maybe as old as i am or maybe experienced as many things as i have, it all gets blurred together, but that day feels as if it happens just a few months ago. i still remember it so vividly. i think that notion, that i can remember that with the vivid sense of each aspect of the day in ways that i can't remember , the blur of my life in many unique forcts is as me as anything about that particular day. the horrific nature of the loss
of life, and the defiant nature of democrats and republicans. uncertain and anxiety about the level of security that we had, or that we were not sure we had out all at the end of that day. that struck me as some of the most important aspect of that experience. steve: do you remember when you went to bed? steve: -- tom daschle: i don't. it was late. very late. and i was very weary, but i don't recall. i know it was well after midnight. steve: and then the next day, congress convened. what time did you get to the capitol? tom daschle: i got to the
capitol pretty early, because i needed to make sure we knew what we were going to do and how. we hasn't locked in many of the -- we had not locked in many of the details. the speaker and i along with the other leadership wanted to be sure we opened early and that we started business as usual. we took up the legislation. i don't recall what bills were pending, but we were opening up to morning business for people to express themselves. morning business in the senate is a feature of every day, generally, that allows members and opportunity to be recognized to speak and there was a long, long line of people waiting to be recognized. steve: what was the september 12th america like for you? and how did we change as a nation? tom daschle: i look back on september 12th as, in some ways, the best and the worst of our country. the best part was how resilient and how united our country can
be in the tragedies of this magnitude. the worse had to do with the vulnerability and loss of so many lives, and the knowledge that there was agony and so much pain. it could not possibly be articulated or understood that -- in that short. of time. -- it could not possibly be articulated or understood in that short period of time. i look at how we responded and i guess i would say we responded well intended. i think that it was interesting certain requests and
an agenda began to address the problem. relief for new york. find ways to improve security. in that time, the country remained united. perhaps not with the degree of scrutiny and degree of care and attention we should have given. we passed legislation very well intended that i look back at now as maybe moving a little too fast. however we did what with was the , -- we did what we thought was the right thing to do. steve: when did you go to the pentagon? and have you been to shanksville, pennsylvania? tom daschle: i have not been to shanksville, pennsylvania. we did go to the pentagon. i don't recall the specific amount of time. mayor giuliani met us. we went to the shift, which was
the relief headquarters. we talked to all of those courageous heroes working on the site who later would found out with great peril to their own lives and help. we went to the pentagon shortly. i think we were at the pentagon the very next day, but we did as much on site review and made the effort and the most sincere and heartfelt way to express sympathy. steve: ten years later, how do you reflect on what this country and what the world went through? tom daschle: first, i think it was a transformational moment. transformation in profound ways and small ways. i think it probably led us to two wars and to a change in how we conduct our lives. to how we get on airplanes, how